A young Ditidaht mother is warning people that COVID-19 is real after she spent two weeks in hospital fighting for her life. In late October, when what was believed was a simple head cold worsened to the point that she couldn’t walk anymore, Denise Thompson knew she needed to call herself an ambulance.
Thompson, 33, is a Ditidaht mother of two children, ages three and 13. She lives in Aldergrove, B.C., about 60 kilometres east of Vancouver. She supports her family as a tax preparer, and had just gotten back to work after several months of being shut down during tax season due to pandemic restrictions.
From a hospital bed the young mother told Ha-Shilth-Sa that she always took the pandemic seriously, taking all the safety precautions. But it was at a seemingly harmless family gathering that she contracted COVID-19.
It was Oct. 24 when Thompson and her family were exposed to the deadly virus. Through occasional coughing spells and throat clearing, Thompson struggled to share her ordeal with Ha-Shilth-Sa over the phone.
“I went to my sister’s birthday that day; we had a barbeque,” said Thompson.
She invited a friend over, unaware that the friend’s sister had just tested positive for COVID-19. Thompson later learned that the friend was advised to self-isolate, but didn’t listen.
Five days later, on Oct. 29, Thompson started to feel like she was fighting a head cold. Suffering from anxiety, she uses a prescribed inhaler to help with breathing issues. She thought she was getting better until Halloween night, when she woke bathed in sweat.
“I was having trouble breathing so I used my puffer and took Tylenol and went back to sleep,” she shared.
Two days later, on Monday, Nov. 2, Thompson’s condition worsened.
“I tried to walk, to get up out of bed to go to bathroom and I felt really dizzy. I knew something was wrong, I struggled to breathe,” she recalled.
It was then that she called herself an ambulance and was admitted to the Abbotsford Regional Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, where she tested positive for the coronavirus.
The following two weeks were tough, as Thompson struggled to breathe.
“I was in ICU for seven days on oxygen,” said Thompson, adding that she was very close to having to be intubated. “It’s so painful. It feels like you are suffocating.”
“It’s been the scariest two weeks of my life,” added Thompson, who was finally taken off of oxygen on Nov 16.
She said that if she can stay off the oxygen for 24 hours, she would be released from the hospital on Nov. 17.
Thompson’s two children were also exposed but their symptoms were so mild that they didn’t qualify for testing. They have completed their self-isolation period.
“My oldest had very mild symptoms, youngest had fever for two days and now is fine,” she said.
Thompson shared space in the ICU with other COVID-19 patients. She saw one who didn’t make it, being removed from the bed in a body bag. Another COVID-19 patient was a pregnant woman who was sedated because she needed to be on a breathing machine. Her baby was delivered by emergency cesarean section. The mother remains sedated in hospital, unaware that she had given birth.
Thompson warns people to take the pandemic seriously.
“The one time I let a guest come over and someone careless comes in,” she said.
She fought for her life and is grateful to have bounced back. At one point she required a walker to get to the bathroom and even standing for a shower was incredibly difficult.
The road to recovery will be long as Thompson’s lungs heal, and she regains her strength.
“I have to use puffers every day, and my lungs are still not healed,” she said. “You don’t think it’s going to happen to you or someone you’re close to. I know a lot of people saying it is fake and people are just trying to control you.”
She wants people to take the pandemic seriously.
“I went seven days without knowing I was a carrier; and when I get out of the hospital, I know people will be looking at me differently now. They’ll be judging me,” she added.
The doctors warned Thompson that there is no cure or vaccine or even immunity from COVID-19.
“What’s going to happen is you’re going to get sick and you’re either going to live or die. If you live, your lungs are compromised, making it more dangerous if you get sick again,” she said.
Adding to her worries, Thompson has been off work for more than three weeks. The seasonal nature of her job and the pandemic has complicated her attempts to apply for employment insurance and she doesn’t know how she will cover her December rent.
“Now the bills are piling up and I don’t know how they will get paid,” said Thompson, adding that she is not physically or mentally capable of going back to work right now. “I am talking with EI now, they are looking at my case.”
Thompson has launched a crowd-funding effort seeking financial donations to help get to the end of the year. If you would like to help Denise Thompson, please make contributions at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-replace-income-after-hospital-stay